How to aim for the moon…and back.

Compare these two goals set by some of the smartest people in the world. 

  1. The development and operations of vehicles capable of carrying instruments, equipment, supplies, and living organisms through space– (One of the eight stated goals by NASA, 1958)
  • Land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth before this decade is outJohn F. Kennedy 1961.

Which one do you think made it to the moon, and why?

In their seminal book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” the authors dissect and reconstruct what is, to my mind, the best and most complete recipe for setting and reaching goals.

The book is one of a small handful of books that is difficult for me to quote from: it is one big interconnected (but simple) recipe. But I decided to share an excerpt about rule #4 of the 1stDiscipline.

(If this wets your appetite for more, and you want this book on your desk next week, just send me your address and I will be happy to post you a gift.)

Excerpt from The 4 Discipline of Execution, by C. McChesney, S. Covey & J. Huling.

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important.

Rule #4: All WIGs [Wildly Important Goals] must have a finish line in the form of from X to Y by when. Every WIG at every level must contain a clearly measurable result, as well as the date by which that result must be achieved. For example, a revenue-focused WIG might be: “Increase percent of annual revenue from new products from 15 percent to 21 percent by December 31st.” This from X to Y by when format recognizes where you are today, where you want to go, and the deadline for reaching that goal. As deceptively simple as this formula may seem, many leaders often struggle to translate their strategic concepts into a single from X to Y by when finish line. But once they’ve done it, both they and the teams they lead have gained tremendous clarity.

Typically, however, goals lack this kind of clarity. We constantly see goals like these that no one can achieve because there’s no finish line; no way of telling whether you completed the goal or not or where you stand at any given point.

[Bold emphasis added]

  • From a major global retail company: “Improve inventory processing”
  • From a British publisher: “Develop and strengthen new and existing client relationships”
  • From an Australia tourist authority: “Influence effective tourism workforce development in Queensland”
  • From an European investment firm: “Successfully convert our portfolio to a life-cycle strategy”
  • From a multinational agribusiness company: “Identify, recruit, and retain the best employees”

These goals lack the measurement that can tell the team when they’ve won the game. “Improve inventory processing?” How much? “Strengthen new client relationships?” How do we measure “stronger”? “Successfully convert a portfolio to a life-cycle strategy?” How will we know if we’ve done that?

….In 1958 NASA had many very important goals like this one: “The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space”. It sounded like many of the goals you hear in business today: “Become world class…”, or “Lead the industry…” …[NASA] lacked the clarity of a defined finish line…But In 1961, President John F. Kennedy shook NASA to its foundations when he made the pronouncement ‘land a man on the moon and return him safely to the earth before this decade is out”. Suddenly, NASA had a formidable new challenge, the war it would fight for the next ten years and it was stated in exactly the way WIGs should be stated: “X” is earthbound, “Y” is to the moon and back, and “when” is by December 31, 1969.